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Committee for the Truth on the Greek Debt: A successful 2nd plenary session in Athens 4 to 7 May 2015
by Raphael Goncalves Alves
13 May 2015

After a first session in April most members met again for four days in order to account for their respective investigations, plan and organize what has to be done for the intermediary report to be handed in by mid-June.

Sessions took place within the Hellenic Parliament where all presentations and debates could be interpreted into the three working languages, namely Greek, English and French.

As scientific coordinator, Eric Toussaint chaired the various sessions, leading debates so as to define the next stages in the Committee’s work. The internal work sessions were complemented by a public session of introduction on Monday morning and a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

The four days were presided over by Zoe Konstantopoulou, who is also President of the Parliament. She took an active part in the various work groups in spite of her many commitments. The Committee could also rely on the help provided by Georges Katrougalos, Minister for administrative reform, who was putting his bill for the reintegration of unduly laid-off civil servants to the MPs’ vote. He insisted that the Committee was supported by the whole government and the several ministries.

During the opening session Eric Toussaint recalled the twofold objective of the current audit, namely to provide the Greek government with arguments and answers towards a possible suspension or cancellation of the debt, and to sensitize and mobilize citizens in Greece and all over the world.
In this respect the international appeal launched this week and aiming at supporting the Greek audit has to be mentioned. 300 personalities signed it at once, including Noam Chomsky and Ken Loach, and it is now open to signatures at large. Giorgos Mitralias had the opportunity to promote the initiative – that has already gained massive support – at the press conference on 7 May.

Report on work done and planning future work

From Monday afternoon until Wednesday morning, sessions consisted of the presentation of what the workgroups had produced. (The groups had been decided on during the first session and bring together 2 to 5 members of the Committee according to their expertise, for them to focus on parts of the investigation and of the final report. We can distinguish three approaches:

- groups working on creditors (ECB, IMF, countries that are members of the euro zone, EFSF, private creditors);
- groups on legal issues (impact of austerity policies on human rights, the legality of the agreements with the Troika, etc.);
- groups on macroeconomic issues (origins of the Greek debt, impact of austerity policies and of the Memoranda on the economy and on the sustainability of the public debt).

Each group reported on its current findings and on the preliminary conclusions it had reached. Each presentation was debated and resulted in collective decisions aiming at giving the group clear instructions for its future work. Convincing evidence of irregularities in the process through which the country contracted its debts from 2010 to 2015 has already been brought up. The intermediary report will consist of those various contributions as harmonized by a drafting committee appointed during the previous session.

The members of the Committee came to an agreement on the structure of the intermediary report. A draft plan drawn up by Eric Toussaint was amended and the final structure of the document was defined by consensus.

It was also decided that the third session of the Committee will take place in Athens between 15 and 18 June 2015. This means that the deadlines are extremely short for the members of this Committee, all of whom – around fifteen Greek and fifteen international members – are working on a volunteer basis. However, as Eric Toussaint pointed out at the closing press conference, the unity of time, of creditors, and of type will make it possible to conduct an audit of the debt more rapidly than has been the case elsewhere (with the audit of Ecuador’s debt, for example). Similarly, the report filed in June will be an intermediary report, but the work will continue thereafter in order to produce a final report that is even more documented.

Information hunters

One of the most significant debates was around the issue of the collection of official documents, a question which was raised during the presentation made by Maria Lucia Fatorelli (coordinator of the citizen audit in Brazil), co-leader of the audit’s Methodology group. The issue is that, in addition to all the documents and information gathered by the members of the Committee, the various Institutions will have to respond to the Committee’s questions if its work is to be done under proper conditions.

During these four days, several authorities have demonstrated full support for the committee, and have promised to provide assistance, in particular as regards collection of documents. An example is the visit by a delegation of the Committee to the vice-Director of the Greek Central Bank. The President of the Committee also announced that she would send the different requests that will enable the Committee to have access to all documents already in the Parliament’s possession.

Finally, in order to facilitate relations with the ministries and the various public administrations, but also to facilitate the internal organisation of the Committee’s requests, a secretariat specifically dedicated to these tasks has been set up.

In the context of information collection, the Committee will also hear a number of people whose testimony can provide information that will be useful, and even essential, to the committee’s work. Accordingly a subcommittee has been set up with the task of preparing for and conducting hearings. An initial list has been drawn up by all the members of the Committee, and the first requests to appear should be issued shortly.

Definitions are ripening

A workgroup led by Cephas Lumina, former UN rapporteur on the effects of debt on the exercise of human rights, was tasked with drafting definitions of “illegitimate”, “illegal”, “odious” and “unsustainable” debt. This was a crucial issue, since the Committee’s official mandate, among other tasks, is to identify such debts. The proposed definitions were largely accepted in substance, and consensus was reached around them after a few amendments were made. They will be presented in the preliminary report to be filed in mid-June.

This means that much work remains to be done by the Committee between now and then in order to successfully complete this historic initiative, unique in Europe, which we hope will inspire other countries and encourage other peoples to demand an audit of their public debt! Note that a parliamentary audit Committee has been launched in Argentina.

Translated by Christine Pagnoulle and Snake Arbusto

Raphael Goncalves Alves